The Cuban Revolution continues to be a challenge for the Star Tribune editorial page; simplistic thinking is the predictable default position. Space doesn’t permit a detailed refutation of its editorial “Sanders tries pivot on authoritarianism” (Feb. 28), and Steve Sack’s cartoon the following day. But does the Trump/Pompeo State Department, whose report the editors rest their case on, have the credibility to judge “human rights practices” in Cuba? Let’s agree to what is easily provable.
On Jan. 1, 1959, the Cuban people in their immense majority took back their country, a de facto colony of the U.S. from 1902, and Washington, be it a Democrat or Republican administration, has never forgiven them for so doing. Others in the hemisphere, they fear, may be inspired to do the same. Compare and contrast Cuba to Puerto Rico, a colony that has yet to do what the Cubans did. Exactly because its working-class masses and not Fidel and Raul Castro continue to be the real power in Cuba is why Washington maintains its decades-long criminal blockade of the island; the unfulfilled hope that it will make life so difficult that they will rise up and overthrow their revolution.
The Star Tribune’s opinion editors would serve their readers well if they run again that so-instructive photo of Nelson Mandela and Fidel Castro in fraternal embrace in 1991 (Dec. 9, 2013); it speaks volumes about how most of the world views Cuba. Mandela traveled there shortly after release from prison in South Africa to thank its people. “Were it not,” he told a mass audience, “what you did [in defeating the apartheid army in Angola in 1988], I would not be able to be here today.”
Fast-forward to 2014 when, at the request of the World Health Organization, Cuba sent 256 medical volunteers to West Africa to successfully combat the Ebola scourge — the only government to do so.
As for Sack’s scurrilous cartoon, it deserves nothing more enlightening in response than what it pretended to portray. In place of “Castro regime” on the bloodied hanging body, write, “U.S. Guantanamo base” — what many Americans do know about a prison on Cuban soil. Ironically, Sack in his very next cartoon reminded many of us of another example of the nobility of the revolution — Cuba’s offer in September 2005 to send 1,650 volunteers to New Orleans to help relieve the suffering of those, like members of my own family, from the post-Katrina floodwaters. The Bush administration rejected the offer.
As for the timeworn charge that Cubans aren’t allowed to think for themselves, consider the all-so-public event on March 22, 2016, in Havana. Visiting U.S. President Barack Obama spoke to the Cuban people on television and in the press, uncensored, including his criticisms of the government. Former President Jimmy Carter did something similar in 2002. Would Washington ever invite a Cuban head of state to do the same?
If the charge of the critics, including now Sanders, is that there are limits on civil liberties in Cuba, they are right. Not surprising given its geography — 90 miles from an implacable foe for six decades, and the mightiest military power in history.
Where I differ with the critics is the assumption that those limits are in place against the desires of the majority of the Cuban people. Traveling to the island since 1983 has taught me that they accept those limits as the price they pay for defending their revolution. Think a bit about U.S. history when Abraham Lincoln limited civil liberties to defend the revolutionary project he led, to overthrow the slavocracy. Obama in his Havana speech sought to convince Cubans to lower their guard, to be less vigilant. They didn’t. That’s even truer today with the Trump administration’s tightening of the blockade.
Are there Cubans who try to make virtue out of necessity? Certainly. But most Cubans look forward to the day when they can have more political space — necessary for the advancement of their revolutionary project.
To the critics who charge that Cuban leaders use the threat of Washington in a self-serving way, consider what they often say in response: “If you think we’re using it as an excuse, then deny us the excuse — remove the threat.” We in the Minnesota Cuba Committee work with anyone who wants to end the 60-year old blockade, to let the Cuban people and not Washington decide their own destiny.
August Nimtz, of the Minnesota Cuba Committee, is a professor of political science and African-American and African studies at the University of Minnesota.